Reviving a winning concept in motorsports promotion

Remember the IROC series? It stood for International Race of Champions, was jointly founded by Roger Penske and NASCAR executive Les Richter, who was also an inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with Ontario Motor Speedway builder David Lockton. It matched world-class drivers from a variety of international racing disciplines in identically prepared Porsche 911 Carrera RSRs, with television coverage of the competition rounds on ABC. It was an immediate success, but still underwent gradual changes. IROC switched from Porsches to purpose-built stock cars, which pleased the NASCAR drivers in the field, who came to dominate the series’ championship standings. IROC eventually became an all-oval series, but returned to the Daytona International Speedway road course in 2006. The series went on hiatus the following year when it was unable to find a title sponsor. The IROC holdings were liquidated the following year. A lot of people who believed in the soundness of the original concept were sorry to see it go. Now, some important shakers in motorsports world intend to make it happen again.

Tony Stewart went into the record books as the final IROC champion by winning the title in 2006. He lead a consortium that this week announced the Superstar Racing Experience, an IROC-inspired racing series, matching champions in identically prepared cars, that is set to debut next year. Stewart’s partners include former NASCAR championship crew chief and TV personality Ray Evernham – who served as crew chief for the original IROC series – former NASCAR executive George Pyne, and sportscasting executive Sandy Montag. The premise is simple: Put together televised Saturday-night racing programs matching the best from various types of racing. A 2021 schedule of six races, all to be live on CBS, is envisioned. Evernham will be in charge of designing and building the race cars, a parallel of his IROC responsibilities. Little beyond that has been finalized, but Stewart told Speed Sport that he’ll be one the drivers, who could come from literally any series, including the world of x-sports. Evernham predicted that the SRX cars will emphasize horsepower over aerodynamics, and said venues might include legendary American short tracks such as the Nashville Fairgrounds, Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, the Terre Haute Action Track, Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway and Eldora Speedway in Ohio, which Stewart owns. Given everything else that’s going on in the world, you may not have noticed it, but some dramatic events have been reshaping American auto racing over the past year: Roger Penske’s takeover of IndyCar racing and its hallowed home, NASCAR’s response to Black Lives Matter, and now this. In addition to being a certified racing superhero, Stewart also has ownership of a NASCAR team, Eldora, and the All-Star Circuit of Champions for Sprint cars. Evernham, a former NASCAR team owner, has partnerships with Axalta, Goodyear and Valvoline, among others, and hosts Glory Road on NBCSN. Pyne and Montag are influential people in their own fields. A new generation of powerbrokers is emerging in American racing. This deal is really going to happen, and it’s going to be exciting. Stay tuned, literally.

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